Resistance erupts over ‘austerity’, as EU crisis worsens

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THE government of President Nicolas Sarkozy announced yesterday the raising of the pension age in France from 60 to 62. Workers will have to work longer (41.5 years) to qualify for a pension. Labour Minister Eric Woerth said it was ‘inevitable’ and necessary to balance public finances.

However, this was condemned by the opposition Socialist Party. Francois Hollande said: ‘This is the most unfair reform to have been decided by the President… Nicolas Sarkozy has decided to make the poor pay.’

The change to pensions is part of Sarkozy’s 45bn euro ‘austerity’ programme over the next three years, aimed at cutting France’s budget deficit from 7% to 3%.

There has already been widespread strike action in defence of pensions and tens of thousands marched in Paris last month. A summer of mass strike action and huge mobilisations is expected against Sarkozy’s austerity package.

The French President is following the same course as Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who unveiled a 80bn euro cuts package last week. This is aimed at bringing the country’s budget deficit below 3% by 2014. The cuts involve slashing 30bn-euros from the welfare budget and axing 15,000 government jobs.

At the same time, it is well known that the Papandreou government in Greece is slashing its budget by 30bn euros over three years, freezing public sector pay and pensions, raising the retirement age by two years, increasing VAT from 19 to 23% and raising taxes on fuel.

Berlusconi’s Italian government has adopted austerity measures, slashing 24bn euros next year and the year after, with public sector pay cuts, a recruitment freeze, reducing local government spending and cutting pensions.

In the next two years, Zapatero’s Socialist government in Spain will cut 15bn euros, with a 5% pay reduction imposed on public sector workers, a freeze on some pensions and the slashing of 6bn euros of public investment.

No doubt with Greece, Spain, France and other European Union (EU) states in mind, Merkel declared when she unveiled her plans: ‘Germany has an outstanding chance to set a good example.’ This was a veiled threat to other major eurozone and EU states to sing Germany’s tune.

Yet despite all the meetings and public statement of confidence by the likes of Merkel and Sarkozy, the euro crisis persists. On Monday Greece’s government bonds were downgraded to ‘junk’ status by the credit rating agency Moody’s and major differences emerged between Merkel and Sarkozy at their meeting in Berlin.

Sarkozy went to the German capital with proposals to create an ‘economic government’ of the 16 nation eurozone, but Merkel insisted on the primacy of the EU and its 27 states. Of course, German banks and major corporations have huge investments in eastern Europe.

Merkel said: ‘The members of the EU have to look to themselves as a kind of economic government. We must not create members of the first and second class.’

Amid schisms between the major imperialist powers in the EU (Germany, France, Italy and Britain) and every European state imposing ‘austerity’ measures, the working class is being driven to take revolutionary actions to defend jobs, pay, and welfare and health rights won in the past.

There have already been mass strikes in Greece, Spain, Italy and France, and hundreds of thousands of workers have taken to the streets. This is only the beginning of the struggle against government dictates resulting from the capitalist crisis and the demands imposed by the crisis-ridden, bankers’ and monopolists’ EU.

What is erupting on the scene in every European country is the working class as a revolutionary force that will topple capitalist governments, like those of Papandreou, Zapatero, Berlusconi, Sarkozy and Cameron, and establish workers’ governments to carry out a socialist programme.

The most urgent task facing workers and youth in Europe today is the building of revolutionary parties, sections of the Trotskyist International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), to organise the struggle to smash up the EU and go forward to a Socialist United States of Europe.